Storing fresh herbs

I love fresh herbs. Ideally, I would have herbs growing on my deck so that it’s just a matter of walking out and snipping what I need for anything I cooking–well, excluding some that are best grown in some semblance of shade. In reality that’s not the case; work and hot weather have gotten in the way of my on-deck herb garden, sadly. So that leaves me foraging for herbs in the produce department of my local supermarket, usually pretty successfully for the basics.

There’s a problem with single-serving cooking and supermarket foraging for herbs: those expensive little plastic clam shells often end up languishing in the crisper until they turn to something disgusting.

I’ve seen the recommendations to keep them on your counter-top like a bouquet, and seen the ads for special containers for storing them in the refrigerator. Those packages, or even the bunches of parsley and cilantro, are still a lot of herbs if you’re cooking only for one. The on-the-counter method has some drawbacks–little short sprigs don’t fit well in to a container without some work–stripping leaves, changing the water, and being devoured or designated as toys by the cat. Even so the “leftovers” usually end up discarded from terminal wilt after I’ve let them run out of water, so I revert to the fridge.

Yes, I’m also cognizant of the ice-tray-water suggestion, or storing in oil, too. But if you’re still searching, here a list of some of the best sources I’ve found.

I’m glad I can get fresh herbs at the market, but you simply can’t beat having them growing close to the kitchen door–even if it’s just in pots on the deck to pick just what you need when cooking, or just to rustle around in them for the joy of smelling them and maybe changing your mind about how to season what’s cooking now. A son gôut!

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Food fraud?

I’ve been reading about “fake” food or fraud.  What’s in the package may not be what’s claimed on that catchy label.  Olive oil?  Yes, so I have a favorite specialty shop where I buy my olive oil (Bull City Olive Oil that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before).  But tomatoes?  Hadn’t crossed my mind until my email from Taste appeared in my inbox with an article on that:  The Fake Rolex of Canned Foods.  It’s definitely worth reading since I’d guess that we all have canned tomatoes living in our kitchen cabinets.

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One-pan cooking

It’s really no secret that I don’t like washing dishes–I know some people say that they do, but I simply don’t believe it (I can kind of understand liking ironing, but…). It’s not as wv5220xthough I’ve never mentioned “one-pot meals” here and it’s pretty obvious that I don’t feel a huge need for recipes, but sometimes some guidelines are nice.

In perusing the internet I see lots of recipes that can be done in one pot–or maybe a sheet pan. These are so easily adaptable for single-serving cooking, use things that come in “chunks”,  and that it’s possible to buy in appropriate quantities.  For winter cooking I’ve got no problems using the oven as it simply contributes to heating the house. I’ve bought a one-quarter (9 x 13 inch) sheet pan to prepare for winter meals.

Summer is another matter–no oven use for this person.  I don’t want to add any extra heat, but cooking on a single burner would be within my limits (maybe actually doing it on an induction unit, too.)  Today, I found an article in Bon Appetit Basically that provided some guidelines for building a one-skillet meal that seems very amenable to improvisation–in other words a how to approach.

I’d suggest you take a look at the full article, but in summary:

  1. Cook your protein first. For quick-cooking things like shrimp, etc be sure to undercook just a tad.
  2. Add aromatics of your choice.
  3. Deglaze with your choice of liquid.
  4. Add vegetables; quick-cooking ones are best but that leaves a lot of options.
  5. Add pre-cooked grains if you wish.
  6. Return to protein to the skillet, to reheat if necessary.
  7. Serve!

If you do this in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet the cleanup is going to be really simple. Even better, if the skillet can also go in the oven you’ve even more flexibility in finishing off you one-skillet meal. (Tonight, my skillet will contain some good onion sausage and kohlrabi leaves with a few aromatics–onions and garlic.)

A son gôut!

Beef and barley stew redux

The snow happened, and melted quite rapidly but with the temperature only reaching into the mid 40s, it’s still a good day for beef and barley stew. Just from browning the meat and the vegetables (including the garlic, tomato paste, and the Vegemite), it already smells like comfort food. I did opt to be lazy and finish cooking the stew in the oven (275ºF).

Now I’ve experienced the jar of Vegemite (Marmite wasn’t available at my local supermarket) although I’ve not gotten to the point of trying it spread on toast. I like the aroma from the jar–but that really didn’t come as any surprise because I already knew I liked the aroma of yeast-y thing: certain champagnes, bread dough….

The prep for this is really easy–most of the time spent browning the meat and vegetables but the hands-on work is still minimal, especially since I bought boneless short ribs, so chunking them up was quick and easy. To my dismay, I did find that I hadn’t any whole canned tomatoes–only diced, so diced was what I used.  I did “cheat” and use frozen chopped onions (probably my favorite “convenience” thing except for mirepoix (homemade and put in the freezer), and the kale will be from a bag as well. For now,  it’s time to wait, and anticipate!

Since I’m cooking this for only one person–and this half recipe should be two quite generous servings, I’m going to add the kale (frozen) to only what I’m going to eat today. Whether I decide to freeze half or simply reheat in a couple days, I’ll add the kale to that serving then so it not overcooked. That’s one of the advantages of frozen stuff when it comes to cooking for one.

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…and finally, it’s time to eat! This is the first time for tomatoes in beef and barley stew, but I like it as an alternative to the more stripped down version that I usually do (read beef and barley with seasonings)–but I think I’ll try adapting mine by adding the extra umami sources and the kale but omitting the tomatoes. Beef and barley stew, for me, is a bit like lentil soup: you can never have too many variations.

I’ve not used short ribs often for stews, but in cooking for one when I don’t want to volume that I’d get with chuck, I think I’ll me using them more often–even though they are not really cheap, the have the advantage of being available in quantities suitable for single-serving, or two-serving, cooking.  Another adaptation that I’ll make is to increase the proportion of barley (and, obviously, the liquid) in my efforts to shift toward using less meat.

I suspect it would taste really good even without the Vegemite, but that jar of yeasty stuff is going to hang out with the fish sauce, anchovies, and soy sauce because it certainly is tasty with it.

This was a yummy meal for a chilly day!

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Grocery shopping for one

Do you think about advertising while you’re grocery shopping?  Most likely not! I know that I don’t–but I try to do “perimeter” shopping, making a foray into the center of the store only for specific items–like drain cleaner, paper towels, or dish detergent.  Where I shop, the immediate thing from the entrance is produce (with a big display of locally grown goods), which leads to the meat and fish/seafood counters; a left turn there takes me past the dairy, and refrigerated juices; another left leads me to frozen goods. If I take a right turn at the butcher/fish/seafood counter, I find myself at a counter of prepared fruits and melons (usually in big quantities that are too much for one).  Next in line is the bakery and then the delicatessen.  Continuing through those, I end up at the Asian food bar,  the rotisserie chickens and other prepared meats, and the salad bar.  My usual trek through the grocery store most often involves only a quick dash to the dairy case, then meat and deli. I don’t see a lot of processed food on this circuit. I’d never really given much thought to whether or not my shopping was being manipulated by sales-motivated display methods.  The links below contain some information about store layout and methods used to induce us to buy “stuff”–things that we did not come into the store to purchase: impulse purchases.

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links of hot Italian sausageMeat purchases are pretty easy–thanks to chops, steaks, and a butcher/fish counter that will cut to order; packages of  chicken parts, rather than whole birds, and house-made sausages that I can buy one or two at a time. Careful consideration of the dish that I want to make can allow alternative cuts of meet: beef shank instead of large chuck roast for post roast.

The real difficulties come in produce where things are sold bunched, bagged, or otherwise in quantities that don’t fit single-serving cooking. Some produce just grows in too large a quantity–heads of cauliflower, heads of cabbage or lettuce, a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts…waste just waiting to happen unless we make a serious effort to prevent it.

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One of the difficulties of cooking for one (or even two) is the produce that goes bad while waiting quietly in the refrigerator for you to do something with it.  I love peppers–and I like variety, but I simply cannot use a whole red and orange or yellow bell pepper before they begin to get a little mushy around the edges, no matter how carefully I store them.  So do I do without them?  Even  some ready-to-use packages that are available in the produce department are still more than I want. Buying more than I can use is like throwing money away–and it gets worse if you consider the amount of food waste by consumers after purchase, let alone the waste between harvest and the appearance in the supermarket.

My supermarket likely has something that will help with this dilemma:  a salad bar.

green on the salad barIf you’ve always thought of it as a place to make a salad with all sorts of veggies and trimmings, and pour salad dressing on it, top it with some croutons, and take it back to the office to eat  you need to look at the salad bar from a different perspective. Take a closer look at what’s available there to purchase by the pound–thinking about what you need for a meal, rather than making a salad.

As much as I love salads, packaged greens often go bad before I use all of them. My other objection to big prepared baby spinach on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)packages of greens is the lack of variety–I simply don’t want spinach as my greens for a whole week.  If your market has a salad bar, you can get single-servings of mesclun, spinach, and other greens from the salad bar. I can also get some that loose greens in the produce department–I’ll purchase that either place, depending on what my schedule is and how salad-crazy I am at the time. Since the salad bar usually has several kinds of greens out, I can have mixed salad greens without buying lots of each kind.

salad bar-broccoli-cauliflower IMG_6051I like cauliflower and broccoli too, but again a head of cauliflower is a bit much, so even at $3.99 a pound it is less wasteful and probably cheaper in the long run for me to buy what I need for a single meal from the salad bar–and I avoid having to do the prep myself–added benefit.

My most frequent purchase from the salad bar is bell pepper strips, for salads, and sometimes for seasonings.  If I need a lot, for example making the dandelion greens and sausages or  chicken with sweet peppers, I will either buy whole peppers, or use frozen ones since they are to be cooked.  The salad bar that I frequent usually has a variety of colors, so I can have that without red, yellow, orange, and green going bad in the fridge. (I prepared bell peppers on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I’m one of the people who will stand there and pick out the red, orange, and yellow and leave the green ones behind.)

I don’t buy tomatoes off the salad bar–I think that the refrigeration changes the texture of them, so I usually get grape/cherry tomatoes from the produce section. They seem to be one thing that I use easily before they get funky.

Onions and whole carrots keep well julienned carrots on the salad barenough that I buy those in the produce department most of the time and keep them in the fridge; but if I want  julienned carrots to make a quick serving for a meal or for a salad–I may just take the lazy way out and use the salad bar rather than the packaged ones in the produce department. That’s my idea of convenience food.

I don’t often by cucumbers from the salad bar since I prefer the English ones–and the salad bar usually features the American slicers so they are not worth the per pound price. Other things that may be purchased from the salad bar include sliced mushrooms, julienned radishes, or fresh mozzarella when you want just enough for one serving.

Another frustration of buying produce for one is fruit. As much as I like cantaloupe, honeydew, berries and other fruit, getting variety leads me to use the fruit side of the salad bar often. I can usually find assorted berries, mangoes, pineapple, and melons there.

Most of the items on the salad bar really aren’t that heavy–and considering that you have avoided the waste of unused produce, it seems to be a reasonable price.  Even some of the heavier items like melons, broccoli and cauliflower, are a bargain for me since it allows me to have variety in my meals and minimizes waste.

Not everything I want is on the salad bar, so the solo cook has to deal with more produce than you’re going to use quickly. What are the options?

Leftovers. . . and second servings

One of the banes of refrigerator maintenance is leftovers. I work hard to avoid them, but I’m often defeated in my efforts, especially when eating out. So often restaurant servings are HUGE, and, sucker that I am, I don’t just leave the excess on my plate.  I bring it home, tuck in into the refrigerator, and then likely at some too-far-in-the-future date I get an odoriferous reminder that I now have to do something with the leftovers, which are likely to be found in the back of the refrigerator. They will most likely be unidentifiable now, so they go into the garbage.

cat in refrigerator

lookin’ for leftovers

The obvious first step is to think carefully about bringing home restaurant leftovers: Will it reheat well enough that you really want to eat it?  After all it probably doesn’t make much difference when it gets thrown out–then or a week later. If I decide to tote it home (and I already know that the cat won’t eat it), then I need to label it, and be sure that it doesn’t end up in the back-most corner of the fridge.  I have used masking tape (which comes off easily–often too easily), Sharpies (which can be removed from some things with rubbing alcohol).  I recently found a suggestion to use dry erase crayons (which I didn’t even know existed).  Might be worth a try, but better yet for me would be to be much more judicious in what I put into the fridge as a “leftover”.

“Leftovers” from my own cooking aren’t as much of a problem, but I’m always looking for ways to use the bits and pieces of produce or the last part of that can of beans. I’ve got a handle on the bits and pieces of bags of frozen vegetables and even partially on the celery.  But there are still bits  and pieces….

The Cook’s Illustrated books on cooking for two and Joe Yunan’s book (see bibliography) is the cross-indexing of recipes that use the same ingredient so you have a suggestion for what to do with the other half  of that head of cauliflower.

I’ve found several tools to help reduce waste in single-serving cooking. First from the kitchn is an article titled What to Do With…? 75 Tips for Leftovers and IngredientsThere is a long list of things from produce market, the refrigerator, and the pantry with suggestions of what to do with the extras. For a lot, the suggestions are “freeze it” which does not necessarily solve the problem–just moves it to some point in the future; however, there are some good suggestions.

The flip side of this is throwing away things that could reasonably be used. For some examples, see 10 Foods You Should Never Throw Away. I can agree with the cheese rinds and chicken bones, but here again, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of just changing where you stash the leftovers. When you’re doing single-serving cooking you do need to consider carefully what you bring home and what you keep.  Also useful might be Top 10 Ways to Use Up Overripe Fruit.

Another article that is useful 15 Foods You Should Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray. There are lots of other things to freeze as “ice” cubes, and the put into zipper-lock bags for freezing.  Having these portioned out can make it easier to use them. One of the things I do with excess celery and carrots is to make mirepoix (soffrito) in a big batch, then freeze it in ice-cube trays. One or two cubes will be what you need for small-time cooking–and it cuts time from preparation, and should reduce waste!

Planning use as in having thought about possibilities for that second serving (no, not meal planning–I don’t do that), and shopping with single-serving cooking in mind should help. One way to manage what gets pushed to the back is to add a triage box to the fridge.  Triage  refers to the process or sorting, or assigning priority to something.  In the fridge it would be an eat-me-first box where you put things that have a short shelf-life, or perishables so that they don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge.

 

It’s turkey time–again!

At the risk of being considered heretical, perhaps even un-American, and definitely not in the proper holiday spirit, I’m going to come right out and say that turkey would be my last choice for the main course of a holiday feast.  I’d much rather have duck, goose, roast pork, prime rib, or even roast chicken, (unless we’re going to talk wild turkey).  The problem is that it’s an achievement to get a whole turkey to be edible (and I do have a friend who does that well, so I eat her turkey–it’s the best I’ve had when the bird is roasted whole). The problem is the turkey–not the cook!

It seems to me that turkey is all about presentation, and NOT about cooking it to the best advantage. We’ve bred turkeys to have a huge chunk of breast meat, which really isn’t that flavorful. That white meat is attached to the legs, dark meat.  Now dark and white meat cook very differently, and here they are attached to the same bird, so that you have to cook them together–a real cooking dilemma.

Not to mislead you, some of the same problems exist with chicken, or Cornish game hen/poussin, though it’s easier to find ways to have both come out reasonably well on the smaller bird. The white meat still is not as flavorful as the dark, even on free-range chickens. I do use the breast meat–I usually cook it separately from the dark meat, but do sometimes roast a whole bird (French style in a dutch oven, in the Romertopf, or sometimes just uncovered in the oven). 

It’s not that I don’t like turkey–at least occasionally–even the white meat.  I just want it like I want all my food–to have the best taste and texture possible. It’s always seemed to me that when you have two things as different as turkey legs and breast, that you should not try to cook them together–neither will be at its best.  Cook’s Illustrated has provided a recipe for optimizing turkey, and it involves taking it apart, but it also provides for stuffing, and presentation, too. I’d like to try this out with a whole turkey to see how complicated it is to get it done.

I’ll buy turkey breast fillets almost any time for a quick sauté–just like I’d do chicken breasts, but I still like dark meat best. I’m actually glad to see turkeys in the market–especially the pieces–light and dark meat separately. While you can almost always get turkey breast and sometimes even the drumsticks, what I really like are the thighs–without the drumsticks attached. I was happy to find turkey thighs at Harris Teeter when I went to do my marketing yesterday.

roasted turkey thigh in roasting pan

turkey my way

Yes, even though turkey-eating season is about to get into full swing, I came  home with a package of turkey thighs–and tonight I had roast turkey–thigh that is.

It’s ideal for cooking for one–and inexpensive as well. One roasted turkey thigh will give me several meals: hot roast turkey, a cold turkey sandwich, and a serving of turkey soup.

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Since I was working on an indexing job today, I really did not get fancy with my turkey thighs. I just let the thighs sit for a couple hours in the refrigerator, uncovered, so the skin would dry.  I plopped them into the roasting pan with some wedges of potatoes, and salted the skin liberally so it would be crisp and golden brown. Then, into the oven (350°F) for about an hour, and out came my roast turkey.

roast turkey thigh partially carved

ready to serve

I let it rest just like a whole bird, and then carved off my supper. Since I was after as few dishes to wash as possible, I made a cabbage dish that I wanted to try, and had potatoes roasted right along with the turkey–no gravy or stuffing tonight. (Cook’s Illustrated did give instructions for making stuffing with the disassembled bird, and I do want to try to adapt that for my single-serving quantity–but just not today. It was an easy, inexpensive, and tasty meal.

I’d eat more turkey if I were able to get thighs year round.  I’m looking forward to more roast turkey in the next few days as I have another thigh that’s been roasted.  I suspect there will be more than one turkey sandwich, and some will end up in with the bones in some hearty turkey, barley or lentil, and mushroom soup from my tiny single-serving size slow-cooker.

plate of turkey